24 February 2021

Why we exist

Ocean conveying why we exist

Most of us working across the international affairs and development sector are motivated by the same reasons. We want to do something meaningful that can improve the livelihoods of others. We are all in some way or another, on a mission to try and help to make the world a more just, peaceful and inclusive place for everyone. As sectors go, our commitment to this cause is unmatched.

But we face numerous challenges preventing us from reaching our highest impact potential. A lot of them are circumstantially unavoidable, but many are due to a lack of resources.

When I worked in a humanitarian NGO in Sydney, our decisions were guided by what had worked well in the past. We couldn’t risk unknown territory, nor did we have the resources to gather ongoing insights from external sources. Our impact was limited.

Academic knowledge was locked away in expensive journals – and even if it wasn’t, it could steal valuable time to find, read and even translate the papers from theory to application. As such, the parallel world of academia drifted far away into a distant memory.

Yet, academic research has so much to offer to the sector. Original ideas, rigorous insight, and dependable regional reflections. The problem is access. First, physical access to a research paper, as well as accessing a practical meaning behind the abstractive language.

While attending a remote warfare event at Utrecht University by chance, I was reminded of the valuable insight academics have to offer. Endorsed findings are a result of meticulous research and careful analysis, built up from years of qualified thought leadership. High-quality insights placed under the highest scrutiny. During the event, academics exchanged and discussed both theoretical and practical ideas on what needed to urgently be done in this space.

And then one cynical remark struck me: “And yet none of these insights will ever make it out of this very room”. It was said with such nonchalance and was responded to with a collective noise of agreement.

After the conference, a friend, Aileen, and I reflected on the quality of our learnings, and the hopelessness of the mood. We’d both noted the ‘joke’ and the extent to which it resonated with the academics sitting in that room. But why was this the case? Or at least, how is this still the case? Surely this communication gap between academics and practitioners does not require rocket-science to solve. Especially when both sides are so committed to a similar cause.

After our observation, we began to speak with others. We spoke first with our friends who work across the international affairs and development sector. Then we started to have more and more conversations with people from across the sector. From the United Nations to MSF to the Dutch government, the more we spoke about the problem, the more we realised how passionate people were for solving it. And the more conversations we had, the more motivated we became to try and do something about it.

And so here we are. Even more convinced than ever before by our mission to bring valuable academic research to professionals working across the international affairs and development sector.

We’ve been developing Acume for a little while now, and while we still have a long way to go, we’re starting to make progress. The website prototype is ready, we are now a dedicated team of five, and we are ready to begin connecting professionals with trustworthy, diverse and usable insights that can inform and inspire their work. We’re facilitating the translation of pioneering and rigorously researched academic findings that are most relevant to the sector.

By extracting the core insights and adding guidance on how these insights can be applied, we are changing the traditional format of research papers. By doing this, we make academic findings quick to digest and clear to use. By housing these academic insights together on a highly searchable database, we make relevant academic findings easy to find. By connecting the most relevant academics with professionals, we inspire conversation and dialogue. By promoting academic research made by the communities we serve, we offer another way to access localised expertise. By doing all of this, we can support evidence-based decision making and help to drive better solutions and innovation across the sector.

We want to support you to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies, by making the insights that you need easy to find.